Cal Water donation keeps aquatic center kicking

California Water Service in Visalia promises $500,000 over 10 years for proposed aquatic center

VISALIA – A city councilmember’s proposal to build an aquatic center in Visalia has resurfaced with some money to keep the idea afloat.

Earlier this month, City Councilmember Greg Collins, who has been championing the project for four years, announced he had received a commitment from California Water Service to donate $500,000 toward the aquatic center project over a 10-year period. Known as Cal Water, the private utility firm provides water service to 28 communities including Visalia.

Steve Johnson, manager of Cal Water’s Visalia District, said the money would be paid for out of a special fund set aside for community projects and would not be passed on to Cal Water customers. He said the money is contingent on the city approving the facility, which has been a tough sell for the rest of the council.

“We really like this project because it benefits a large portion of the community,” Johnson said. “A project like this has implications for nearly every age group and hopefully the promise of this money will help inspire other funds to help make it happen.”

Collins said the money from Cal Water would be used to help offset the cost of annual maintenance which had been estimated as high as $250,000 by the Aquatics Center Committee Collins formed in 2018. The council was turned off by the idea the facility may not generate enough revenue to cover the ongoing costs. Most of the maintenance would be covered by use fees charged to youth swim teams, swim lessons, aquatic therapy for those rehabilitating from injuries and water fitness for the elderly, as well as hosting travel and youth team tournaments and regional meets for high school swim and water polo teams.

“If the city were to fall short on maintenance, this could help fill in the gaps to minimize the city’s subsidization of the complex,” Collins said.

Collins scaled back the project based on additional feedback from council members. Collins reduced the competition lanes from 50 to 38 meters, which would allow for 12 lanes of swimming and is wide enough to accommodate a full-sized water polo area. The competition pool now has a max depth of 7 feet, which would eliminate diving but save on the cost of construction and maintenance. In all, the changes are projected to have lowered the cost of the complex from more than $12 million to about $10 million.

“The unique design takes a lot of the council’s concerns into consideration,” Collins said.

The complex would still include a kiddie pool, which would only be open in the summer months, locker rooms, as well as two walls dedicated as a local aquatics hall of fame, featuring high school and youth swim team records. Collins presented the new version of the complex to the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission on June 8 after receiving the promise of funding from Cal Water. He said he plans to meet with two of the commissioners to go over the proposal before bringing it back to the commission for a recommendation. He hopes the commission will bring their recommendation to the city council later this year.

Collins, and aquatic enthusiasts, say there is a growing need for an aquatic center in Visalia because the amount of available time in the pool is shrinking for nearly every group. He said public swim time, lap swim for exercise, triathlete training and swim lessons are constantly competing with high school swim, water polo and dive teams. Collins said the City of Visalia and Visalia Unified School District have an agreement that high school athletics get scheduling preference during the school year but that City programs exercise that right in the summer months, but there is always overlap.

The aquatic center seemed dead in the water in 2019 when the council voted 3-2 to deny Collins’ request to put the facility back on the council’s agenda. Collins called for the vote after the council received a thorough report from the Parks and Recreation Commission during a joint meeting on March 12, 2019.

Collins first floated the idea of an aquatics center in 2017 and asked the council to approve $25,000 to hire a consulting firm to look into the hard costs of building a city-owned facility. The aquatics center was originally proposed as a stand-alone facility for competition, recreation and rehabilitation on the dirt lot at the corner of Burke and Oak streets across from the Visalia’s Emergency Communications Center (VECC) which opened in 2017. The council had a little bit of sticker shock when the Aquatics Center Committee presented an estimated cost between $12 million and $15 million. There was broad support for the project from the public and the council but both seemed worried about the cost, an issue which has plagued swim complex projects in the past.

John Lindt is publisher of Sierra2theSea.net, an online media outlet covering the Central Valley and Central Coast of California.

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